HOUSTON - George Springer knew something was different about Shohei Ohtani in his second at-bat against the Angels’ pitcher during the third inning on Sunday night.
“The velocity drop was probably the obvious,” Springer said. “He was throwing 98-99 (mph, 158-159 kph) and then came out throwing 88-92 (142-148). When it’s that obvious, I hope he’s OK.”
Springer hit a two-run homer and finished a triple shy of the cycle to lead the Houston Astros to a 4-2 win over Los Angeles in Ohtani’s return to the mound.
Ohtani (4-2) threw 2⅓ innings in his first time pitching since June 6 because of an elbow strain. Both of the hits he allowed were to Springer — a leadoff single and his two-run shot in the third that made it 2-0.
Springer was right about something being wrong with Ohtani.
After the game Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Ohtani was dealing with tightness in his back and a sore right ring finger after a ball deflected off of it in the second inning. Scioscia doesn’t think either problem should cause Ohtani to miss more time on the mound.
“First two innings were electric. That’s what you expect,” Scioscia said. “Third inning, obviously his stuff wasn’t as crisp . . . there was definitely a drop of velocity but not connected at all to the thing that he had with his elbow before. Hopefully he has good workouts in between and be ready to go next week.”
Alex Bregman finished with two hits and his solo homer in the seventh inning pushed the lead to 4-2.
Ohtani joined Babe Ruth as the only players in major league history to start 10 games as a pitcher and hit 10 homers in a single season. The rookie, who has 15 homers, missed almost a month after he was injured before returning as the team’s designated hitter on July 3.
He threw 49 pitches on Sunday, striking out two and walking two.
“I gave up that two-run shot so I failed to do my job as a starting pitcher,” he said in Japanese through an interpreter. “So, that’s a disappointment right there. Body-wise, I really can’t say much at this point. I will wait until (Monday) to see how my body reacts. As of now my body feels fine.”
Ohtani landed on the disabled list on June 8 with a Grade 2 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow.
With the Angels trailing 3-2 in the seventh, right-hander Junichi Tazawa debuted for Los Angeles after being called up from the minors Saturday.
Tazawa gave up a solo shot to Bregman to put the Angels further behind. He later yielded a double and issued a walk but escaped the inning without further damage.
Houston starter Gerrit Cole (13-5) allowed six hits and two runs in 5⅔ innings for his third straight win after losing three in a row. He struck out nine to move past teammate Justin Verlander (240) and into first place in the American League with 243 strikeouts. Roberto Osuna pitched a perfect ninth for his 12th save.
After Springer’s single in the first, Ohtani walked Carlos Correa with two outs, but struck out Tyler White to end the threat. He pitched a 1-2-3 second inning before Tony Kemp drew a walk to start the third. Springer then sent a 77 mph (124 kph) slider into the Crawford Boxes in left field with two strikes for his first homer since Aug. 5.
“He’s been teetering on that a little bit over the last couple weeks and every hitter needs to feel a little bit of success no matter the work they’re putting in,” manager A.J. Hinch said of Springer. “So tonight he put it all together and really did a nice job at the top of the lineup.”
Jose Altuve grounded out after that and Ohtani was replaced by Jim Johnson.
Dodgers 3, Diamondbacks 3
In Los Angeles, Matt Kemp beat Arizona for the second straight game, hitting a two-run double in the ninth inning that lifted the Dodgers over the Diamondbacks 3-2 and into sole possession of the NL West.
A day after Kemp launched a go-ahead, three-run homer in the eighth against Archie Bradley, the Dodgers’ slugger tagged him again with a one-out drive off the wall in left-center. Los Angeles is alone atop the West for the first time since Aug. 7. The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks by identical 3-2 scores three days in a row, after Arizona won the series opener at Dodger Stadium.
In Other Games
Braves 5, Pirates 1
Brewers 9, Nationals 4
Rockies 7, Padres 3
Mets 4, Giants 1
Reds 6, Cardinals 4
Cubs 8, Phillies 1
Athletics 8, Mariners 2
Rays 6, Indians 4
Rangers 18, Twins 4
White Sox 8, Red Sox 0
Tigers 11, Yankees 7
Royals 9, Orioles 1
Blue Jays 6, Marlins 1